By John Pecoraro, Assistant Director
Say Italy, and people think beautiful women (ala Sophia Loren), great food, and romance. Oh, and one more thing, mystery. Mysteries by Italian authors, or taking place in Italy, have all the pleasant things one associates with Italy, plus a healthy dose of murder. If you’re ready to experience the allure of Italy, while feeding your hunger for compelling mysteries, checkout some of the many Italian mystery novels available at Manhattan Public Library.
How does a police commissioner maintain law and order in a fascist state, especially if he possesses the uncanny ability to see dead people? This is the dilemma Commissario Ricciardi faces in the series by Maurizio De Giovanni. In “I will have Vengeance: the Winter of Commissario Ricciardi,” the title character investigates the brutal murder of a world famous tenor. Can the unrestful spirit of the tenor give Ricciardi a clue as to the identity of his killer? Ten titles in this series taking place in Naples have been translated into English.
Donna Leon brings the serene city of Venice to life through the thoughts and actions of Commissario Guido Brunetti in a series that now encompasses 26 titles. In “Death at La Fenice,” Brunetti investigates the death of Maestro Helmut Wellauer, a world-renowned conductor, poisoned with cyanide during an intermission at the famous Venice opera house. As the investigation unfolds, a chilling picture of Nazi sympathies and revenge begins to take shape.
Travelling down the length of the boot, Sicily is the scene of the Inspector Salvo Montalbano mysteries by Andrea Camilleri. Over the course of 24 titles to date (20 translated into English), Inspector Montalbano polices the small fictitious town of Vigata. In “The Shape of Water,” a local politician has been found dead in his car with his pants down. The victim of a heart attack? The car was parked in a field frequented by prostitutes. While Montalbano’s superiors want a quick resolution to the case, Montalbano is cynical enough to smell a setup.
Michael Dibdin authored 11 titles in the Aurelio Zen series before his untimely death in 2007. In “Dead Lagoon,” Zen returns to his hometown of Venice to work on a minor case, while at the same time earning cash on a side job investigating the disappearance of a rich American. While in Venice, Zen observes changes in the town itself and in the people he knew as children. Being mistaken by old men for his father who vanished mysteriously years before is just one of the personal issues Zen has to deal with in solving the case of the missing American.
Returning to Rome, we can follow the exploits of Nic Costa, as reported by David Hewson. In “A Season for the Dead,” Costa, all of 27 years old and a connoisseur of the painter, Caravaggio, is hunting for a serial killer who uses his victims to create representations of famous martyr portraits. As if this wasn’t problem enough, Costa also has to contend with a corrupt cardinal, the Mafia, and the secrecy of the Vatican.
Also taking place in Rome are the Commissario Alec Blume mysteries by Conor Fitzgerald. In “The Dogs of Rome,” Blume, an American expatriate who has been living in Italy for over 20 years, investigates the murder of an animal-rights activist whose wife is an important politician and whose mistress has ties to the Mob.
If you’re in the mood for something a little different, try the Milano Quartet by Giorgio Scerbanenco. First published in 1966, “A Private Venus,” is an arresting noir novel whose antihero, Duca Lamberti, is a disbarred doctor who has just been released from prison for assisting a terminally ill woman to end her life. Lamberti is no stranger to making bad choices. His latest is accepting the proposal of a rich industrialist to babysit his son, a chronic alcoholic. Alcoholism, Lamberti discovers, is the least of the young man’s troubles.
Other authors of Italian mysteries you should sample include “Lost Girls of Rome,” by Donato Carrisi. There’s also the Inspector Bordelli mysteries by Marco Vichi, including “Death in August.” Don’t forget Magdalen Nabb, whose protagonist, Marshal Guarnaccia, features in such titles as “Vita Nuova, or Michele Giuttari, whose Michele Ferrara investigates murder in “A Death in Tuscany.”